As you can see, I tweaked the title of this series for this article. I just realized it could be a little confusing. Facts that indicate the church in America is in decline are not good news. However, to know the state of the church whether good or bad is helpful, it gives us a starting point for change and growth. It’s kind of like a reality check.
I want to finish up this series with two facts that specifically impact us, they have New Guilford written all over them.
Mid-sized churches are shrinking; the smallest and largest churches are growing.
While America’s churches as a whole did not keep up with population growth from 1994 to 2004, the country’s smallest (attendance 1–49) and largest churches (2,000-plus) did… During that period, the smallest churches grew 16.4 percent; the largest grew 21.5 percent, exceeding the national population growth of 12.2 percent. But mid-sized churches (100–299)—the average size of a Protestant church in America is 124—declined 1 percent.
Established churches—40 to 190 years old—are, on average, declining.
All churches started between 1810 and 1960 (excluding the 1920s) declined in attendance from 2003 to 2004. The greatest attendance decrease in that period (-1.6 percent) came from churches begun in the 1820s, followed by the 1940s (-1.5 percent).1
There you have it, we are the wrong size and we are too old to grow. We were thinking it is a good thing to be celebrating 150 years, but maybe we’ve outlived our usefulness. Let’s just start waving the white flag! We give up!
No, we’re not giving up! Statistics are interesting and they might be able to prove trends and what is happening in general, but there are two major resources they discount – the work of the Holy Spirit and the people who make up the church.
The Holy Spirit does not follow trends or work only within statistical boundaries. If we are willing to follow where He leads and rely on His power and wisdom instead of ours, I believe we can see great things happen. The Spirit gives life to a church, not programs or a great facility or money. While size and age might pose challenges, they are just that – challenges.
Every church or congregation is made up of different people, so it should be obvious that not all congregations are going to be the same. Each person brings something unique, because of that New Guilford is unlike any other congregation. Just because growth is a challenge for churches our size and our age, we are not like every other church in that same category. We don’t have to fit into the mold, we can choose to do what God is asking of us to grow.
No matter what the statistics say we start with embracing God’s love for the world and letting the Spirit put a passion in us for growth that takes place through reaching those that need Christ. We then trust God to fulfill that desire for growth and ask Him to show us what we must do to reach others. When God shows us what needs to be done, then we step out in faith and take action, no matter what changes we have to make. I’m looking forward to the growth that will happen because we are relying on the Spirit, not statistics!